Being a founder, not to mention a CEO, can be a very lonely place, carrying loads of stress and requiring to constantly be at peak performance. This often makes it hard to find a balance between one's professional and personal life. Maintaining strong relationships with the co-founders and investors is also not an easy task, where clarity and empathy are not always present. As one of my entrepreneurs says: “It’s not the technological challenge we deal with, it’s the mental one.”

“Throughout my +15 years as a professional, I've always been attracted to the intersection of business and psychology through entrepreneurship - What makes people tick? How do people think and act? And what motivates people in business? What drives me is being there for the amazing entrepreneurs, who are under constant pressure, so that they can make our world a better place. That’s what I’m here for, and this is my podcast – The Human Founder.”

Ep. 66 - With Ori Manor Zuckerman, Co-Founder and CEO of SubStrata

“It all starts from pain,” – Ori admits being shy and sensitive as a child. That same sensitivity is still rooted in his character and personality. Oddly, Ori believes it serves as a key component in some of his recent achievements (successful exits) and an effective “fuel” for future ones. His journey was, and still is, all about accepting yourself and your weaknesses, and sometimes understanding that your ‘weaknesses’ are actually your strengths.

Learning from your mistakes as a young entrepreneur

He was a student at Ben Gurion University, experimenting with building B2C online businesses at his own expense with zero prior knowledge: “When you’re not spending someone else’s money, you learn faster. Especially if you don’t have a lot of it to spend.” Later, he wanted to build something more significant and founded DiscoverSDK, a B2B SDK marketplace which still exists today, although he’s not part of it anymore.

Looking back, Ori shares that he might have chosen the wrong investment partners for his startup, as they were more old school and when they took over the company, it didn’t go in the direction he envisioned. After fighting for the company and his vision, he realized he didn’t have any other choice but to leave.

“I even got to the point where I cried. A stream of tears. Alone. In my car”. Things can ‘sound easy’ when looking at Ori speak about his journey – another ‘lucky’ serial entrepreneur but in reality, there’s a long, and sometimes dark, history of struggle before seeing the first signs of success.

After leaving DiscoverSDK, he founded Unomy with Gal Har-Zvi, Dima Kuchin, and Yuval Amir. They built amazing solutions that served hundreds of clients, including fortune 500 companies like Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Mckinsey, and Checkpoint. There was a lot of uncertainty throughout that journey. They received several acquisitions offers, some fell very close to the closing stage, but the buyer pulled the rug out from under their feet. Eventually, they received more offers and sold the business to Adam Neumann’s WeWork in 2017.

What happens on your side, when you almost close a deal and at the last second it is withdrawn?

“It’s devastating, but you must keep believing that your efforts will eventually pay off and that you’ll eventually have another chance or two, for which you’ll need to be ready. When that chance arises, you must break things down, analyze them completely, and not leave a single stone unturned.”

He continued: “In the past when trying to close a deal if I saw it moving away, I tried to chase it. It obviously didn’t work. I had to rewire myself to remain successful and not lose hope, which is a bit irrational but at the same time be extremely analytical about what happened. Though that is difficult, it is necessary. I took this specific aspect of breaking down complex situations to a whole new level when I founded Substrata. I was always fascinated by subtleties and nuances and very sensitive to what’s going on in social situations and interpersonal dynamics. That specific combination of sensitivity and curiosity is part of the energy Substrata runs on today.”

It’s all about communication

There are a lot of components to our communication - there's the verbal, explicit part, but there are also deeper, more implicit non-verbal aspects, like physical gestures, and tone. Substrata is about collecting and processing these implicit signals to help entrepreneurs, dealmakers, and salespeople to push more deals forward.

Ori advises us to look at interpersonal communication as a sphere. The exterior layer is the formal language (Syntax). It’s informative but doesn’t convey the entire meaning. If we look in the inner sphere, we’ll find an internal layer (semantics), which is the contextual meaning. Ori explains that the problem with analyzing semantics is that the “semantic space” is extremely fragmented. The same word can have a totally different meaning in our interactions with different people or circumstances.

An even deeper layer is analyzing things pragmatically meaning from a social/interpersonal perspective. “True meaning” can only be interpreted when fusing together both verbal and nonverbal information. Some of the nonverbal channels include:

  • Kinesics – we know this as body language. It contains posture, hand gestures, facial expressions, micro-expressions, and even combinations between them.
  • Vocalics – everything that has to do with our tone of voice.
  • Proxemics – everything that has to do with how we carry ourselves in our surroundings: the physical setting, the distance between the communicators, the location. For example, in a meeting of a company, even if we don’t speak the language, we’ll know who the boss is and who has the most power within that room.
  • Haptics – everything that has to do with touch. An example of that could be how we shake hands or pat each other on the back.
  • Chronemics – how we use time as a social signal. An example of this could be a pause in the conversation or the time it takes someone to respond to an email or WhatsApp.
  • Textual paralanguage – everything that has to do with how we write, in any form, be it email or text message. What’s fascinating about this, is that even typos can sometimes serve as a signal. If someone in a higher position has typos, that can be interpreted in many ways. Maybe it's a mistake, or maybe it's a power move or points to other social status gaps.

“In the end, all the information we need is already there, but tuning in to it at the right moment and responding to it in a way that corresponds with your goals is a very difficult task.”

Gali and Ori